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Friday, December 30, 2011

TeaKay's Post-Festive Homeopathic Detox Remedy

We've all indulged to some extent this festive season (as with all festive seasons), and I'd venture to bet that most of us have over-indulged: I know I have. And the post-festive period sees all sorts of ventures, regimes and rituals designed to get you back to your muscular, toned and ready-for-anything self. The thing is, these solutions to festive bloat are all (to varying degrees) expensive, ridiculously complicated and complete bunk.

Here's one that's cheap (barely more than free, in fact), simple (requiring only a small handful of household items) and scientifically well-established.


TeaKay's Post- Festive Homeopathic Detox Remedy
I'm using the base principles of homeopathy to create this wonderful, tried-and-tested detox remedy, and the most basic of homeopathy's principles is the 'law of similars'. This is the idea that 'like cures like' and was coined in 1796 by founding father of homeopathy, German physician Samuel Hahnemann, when he realised that ingesting cinchona bark produced symptoms similar to malaria and therefore must cure it*.

From the same logical basis, one of the main issues with regards to overindulgence during the festive season is that of dehydration: it is the root of much of the headaches, nauseous feelings and general malaise experienced after a bout of prolonged self-inflicted gastric abuse. One readily available substance, salt, is known for being hydrophilic (one reason why you're not supposed to drink seawater, especially if already dehydrated, as it can make the problem worse), so that's what we'll use in our remedy.

You will need:
The next step in preparing a homeopathic remedy is that of serial dilution. I'll explain how this works as we go through the steps of preparing your remedy, but first of all, here's a list of things you'll need:
  • Some water. Tap water will do, but if you're feeling flush (no pun intended) you might like to go for something posh, distilled and bottled. You'll need a lot of it.
  • Some salt. You'll only need a teaspoon or so.
  • Some 1 litre bottles (empty).
Preparing the remedy:
Now proceed according to the following instructions, referring to the footnotes for extra info from time to time:
  1. Fill up the 1 litre bottle with water and add the teaspoon of salt. Mix it up thoroughly until all of the salt has dissolved.
  2. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the solution you've just made and pour it carefully into a new bottle. Top it up with water until the bottle is full, and mix**.
  3. Discard the previous solution. Measure out 2 teaspoons of the new solution, pour into a new bottle and mix with another litre of water***.
  4. Repeat step 3 until you have done the whole process 30 times****.
  5. Take the bottle (closed) and clonk it on a bit of wood a couple of times. This part of the process is called succussion.
  6. Drink a glass of the final solution.
  7. Feel thoroughly detoxed.

I've suggested diluting this mixture in this way 30 times as this is what's generally used for over-the-counter homeopathic remedies. According to homeopaths, the more you dilute something, the more potent it becomes. To put this in some kind of perspective, if you dissolved a teaspoon of salt into a ball of water the size of the Sun and then dipped a glass into it, you'd be more likely to get just one molecule of salt in your glass than you would be to find a single molecule of salt in your final bottle of TeaKay's Post-Festive Homeopathic Detox Remedy.

Of course, in a 'real' homepathic medicine, the final step is to take one drop of this final solution, drip it onto a sugar pill, package it up with other slightly damp sugar pills and sell them in Boots*****.


But wait...
Towards the beginning of this post I said that my remedy was scientifically well-established detox remedy!

I wasn't lying: by the end of the preparation, when you carry out step 6 you're actually drinking a glass of water (the statistical likelihood of their being any salt at all in what you're drinking is so low as to be ignored completely). This is one of the best substances you can take to help your body's natural detox mechanisms do their thing. Alongside a well-balanced diet and plenty of exercise, there is no better detox regime (or post-festive weightloss fad, for that matter) to be found.




* This 'law', as with all the best assertions produced by the field of alternative medicine, has remained completely unsupported by scientific evidence right up to whatever time and date it happens to be as you're reading this.
** If you've done this right you should have 10ml of your original salt solution dissolved in 100 times as much 'pure' water.
*** This is equivalent to mixing 2 teaspoons of your original solution with 100 litres of 'pure' water.
**** This step is equivalent to mixing two teaspoons of your original solution with 10,000 litres of water. The step after is like mixing 2 teaspoons of that original bottle with 1,000,000 litres of water. By the time you've done it 30 times you could get the same dilution effect by taking 2 teaspoons of your original solution and mixing it with 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 litres of water, but this is about 150,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times how much water there is on the whole of planet Earth. In fact, that much water in a ball out in space would be bigger than the Sun. Much, much bigger than the Sun.
***** Other gullible high street chemists are, unfortunately, available.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Squeezing On a Jet Plane

"Honey, it's the '90s, remember? Microchips, microwaves, faxes, air phones."
Holly McClane, Die Hard 2 (1990)

I'm watching Die Hard 2 (well, it is Christmas. Sort of.) and it has struck me that Hollywood describes aeroplanes (airplanes, if I'm to enter into the Tinseltown spirit. Which I won't do again.) as great warehouse-sized apartment blocks of the air: luxurious, spacious, mini-holidays in their own right, with a continuous supply of champagne and smiles, and more leg room than you can swing a cat at. And all this after an air-conditioned leisurely stroll through an equally spacious and underpopulated departures lounge and showhome-worthy plane-boarding-corridor-thingy.

But Holly Mclane, McCaulay Culkin's parents and goddamned mutha-truckin' snakes don't fly budget airlines.

I went to Sweden over Christmas, and flew as cheaply as possible.

You know those coaches that reach the end of their usable lives, and too many bits have fallen off to get away with carting around the general public, and then go on in their dotage to ferry kids to and from school? Well, not many people know this, but when they've fallen apart to the point at which they can't even let children on them any more, they get sold to a budget airline company who slap on a pair of wings, shoehorn an extra row of seats between each row of seats, and get a criminal to spraypaint RyanMiJet on the side.

The seats themselves are roomy and comfortable if you're five. Any older, and they're rather cramped. I was sharing half a seat with the person to my left, and he was the other side of the aisle. The person to my right would would have had good cause to apply for a restraining order, and by the end of the flight the only decent thing I could have done (were we not already going out) would be to propose. The only comfortable (indeed, possible) place to put my knees was adjacent to my ears.

In-flight, various attendants made sure that fliers who were sitting on top of each other across the central aisle did not get too friendly by continually rolling a battering ram up and down the plane from which they attempted to sell food, drink, scratch-cards, perfume, cigarettes, train tickets, London Eye entry, kittens and small children at twice the price and half the size that they are available for in the airport (which are, in turn, available at twice the price they're available for at service stations, which, in their turn also, are available at twice the price they're sold for anywhere else).

On the outbound journey the take-off and landing were fine. Inbound, the take-off was fine. The landing was the airborne equivalent of coming down the stairs in the dark and mis-remembering the number of steps. It felt as if the pilot had managed to manoeuvre the aeroplane to somewhere above the runway, thought "that'll do" and turned the wings off.

And there wasn't an air phone in sight.

Here's a clip from a really bad, scientifically ignorant, but inexplicably watchable late 90s movie that has only tenuous relevance to this post and has Liv Tyler in it:




I'm filing this under 'a lie', but that's really not too accurate and I've done it only to cover myself: 'artistic licence' might be more accurate.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Min Jul Enfaranhet!

I was lucky enough to spend Jul (Christmas) in Sweden this year, and I'd like to share my experiences of a culture slightly different to the one I'm used to at this festive end of the year.

The most striking difference between a traditional Swedish Christmas and a traditional English (or British) one is that the focus in Sweden is on Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas Day in England. On Christmas Eve, the day was spent preparing the house and food. In the afternoon, Mats's family arrived*, introductions were made, and the stilted conversation that accompanies a meeting of people from different cultures who speak different languages began. This was aided by the serving of glögg, which is essentially the same as our mulled wine but sweeter, served in much smaller glasses or cups with a spoonful of raisins and nuts.

I have to say at this point that Mats's family were really, really lovely to us. They put us to shame with their ability to speak English**, and were nothing but welcoming and friendly from the minute they came through the door.

Swedish Christmas Eve, round 1.
Then the food started. It was explained to me that a traditional Swedish Christmas meal consists of seven courses served as a buffet, starting off with cold foods (potatoes, eggs with caviar, pates, and the well-known multiple varieties of pickled herring) moving through to hot foods (and larger plates) such as pork ribs, ham and meatballs, and finishing off with a selection of sweet stuff (much of this was fairly recognisable, and variations on a theme of what we might eat for dessert over here. They don't have Christmas pud, though.) The food was a nice variety of things I was familiar with and things I hadn't tried before, which offers a nice opportunity for having new experiences whilst staying near to your comfort zone!

The meal was interjected with the occasional outburst of song followed by a chorus of "skål!" and the knocking back of whichever alcoholic beverage you have to hand. We enjoyed including an English equivalent in which we sang a verse from an English Christmas song, shouted "cheers!" and gulped down a drink. We also imposed our own traditions in the form of Christmas crackers. We'd smuggled these dangerous explosive devices through customs in order that our hosts wouldn't miss out on the paper hats, pathetic bits of plastic and appalling jokes that we Brits hold so dear.

As for the drink... Mats's brothers-out-law had made their own snaps (think of the German schnaps, and it's essentially the same thing- a highly alcoholic drink served as shots), which I was encouraged to try. Numerous times. It was strongly flavoured with saffron, a flavour that either grows on you or that I just don't like (I haven't worked out which).

Swedish Christmas Eve meals go on for hours. Unlike our tradition of mounding everything on to one plate and wolfing it down as if the world is ending, the Swedish affair was a lot more laid back, at least when it came to the food. During the meal a neighbour in a tomte outfit (Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Father Christmas: take your pick) called round and had a chat with the youngest member of our bunch, Jolina (I think I've spelt that correctly, and she's three), after which she opened her Christmas presents (remember this is still Christmas eve).

After we'd eaten, we charged our drinks and the family got together and opened their presents. This really was an unusual aspect for me, having grown up with the night before Christmas an agonising torment as we watched the clock and waited for Christmas day to arrive so that we could start filling the living room with torn paper.

Beyond this (I won't dwell as I didn't have much to open given RyanAir's modest baggage allowance and immodest extra-baggage fees), we settled down to a surprisingly successful bilingual (and mixed teams) game of Pictionary. Again, I won't dwell, other than to say it was massively entertaining and my team (of which I was the only English member) trounced the opposition to an almost obscene degree.

Christmas morning sees, as I understand it, a breakfast as hearty as the previous night's meal (with some of the leftovers making an appearance) and just as many people joining in. I really liked a porridge-y like addition, which was actually more like rice pudding with bits of mandarin orange in it.

On the afternoon of Christmas day we went to visit Nikki and @OhCrazy1's uncle where we ate a traditional English Christmas meal and opened some more presents*****.

Boxing day saw a visit to some more of Mats's relatives, who were similarly welcoming and bestowed similar amounts of food and drink upon us.



In all, Sweden appears to be a typical modern foreign country to the UK, in that They Do Things Largely The Same There. But it's the little differences that make things interesting.







* Mats is Nikki's boyfriend. Nikki is @OhCrazy1's sister. We were staying with them for the four days we spent in Sweden.
** From not knowing a word of Swedish a week ago I can now count to twenty with a fair amount of confidence*** and construct higher higher numbers with a bit of concentration, and utter a few monosyllables with something approaching childish conviction. Most of the Swedish contingent, however, were speaking English with varying levels of what can only be described as fluency. Honestly, it's embarrassing how lax we are over here with regards to putting the mileage in towards learning to speak other languages. For a Swedish kid, being bilingual is far from unusual, and many Swedes**** can speak 3 or 4 languages with some degree of proficiency.
*** My, erm, cousin-out-law, I suppose, was kindly helping me to practise counting to ten in Swedish only yesterday afternoon. She's three years old.
**** The swede (as in the vegetable) is not, incidentally, known as a swede in Sweden. It's a kålrot over there. Apparently our name for it comes from it being referred to as a "swedish turnip."
***** Which I cleverly avoided having to pay extra to take home by drinking it all.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Season's Greetings!

Hello dear readers*!

I'd like to take the time and the opportunity to wish you all the very best of the season, whatever the 25th December may mean to you.

If you're a Christian (and you lot seem to feel that you have the monopoly on this date, which is why I've put you first) I hope you have a great day doing what you do. Please don't give people of other religions (or none at all) a hard time if they've decided to take part in your festival in order to exchange gifts, eat, drink and be merry, and generally be nice to each other. Is it really such a bad thing if they do that whilst leaving out the god bits**?

If you're not a Christian and you're taking the opportunity afforded by a day off work to put your feet up, eat too much, maybe indulge in a tipple or two and spend time with family and friends, then I hope you're doing a damned good job of it. Consider a glass raised to you!

If you're not taking the time out to do anything by way of seasonal celebrations today, or you're celebrating something other than Christmas, then good on you. I hope it turns out to be a useful, restful or enjoyable day for you whatever it is that you're doing.

And please remember, whoever you are, the real reason for the season!



* Yes, both of you.
** If you seriously think that this is a bad thing, then perhaps you need to be taking a good look in the mirror rather than spending your time judging others. Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reasons to be Clearful: Why I Like to Write Proper

Back in the early 80s, hair rock band Van Halen had a clause in their contract that said something to the effect 'there shall be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area'*. This included a comment that not following this clause could result in Van Halen packing up and going home (and/or trashing the backstage area).

Pointless, right?

Equally pointless is making sure that punctuation, spelling and grammar rules and conventions are adhered to when you're writing things, especially when you're posting them online. I mean, what matters is what you've got to say, not how you say it.

The thing is, if you go deeper into the Van Halen story you find that for Dave Lee Roth** & co. this M&Ms clause wasn't simply a bout of rock'n'roll prima-donna-ishness. It was about making sure things were done right. As a big touring band, many of the clauses in their contract involved technical issues, and many of those involved safety considerations. The idea was that if they got to their backstage area and found that this most pointless of all clauses had been catered for, then it was a fairly good bet that the really important ones had been covered. If there was a brown M&M in attendance, this was a small alarm bell that something may be amiss, and then they could get the right people on to checking things with a fine-toothed comb. Or just trash the place and leave.

This is how I approach things I come across on the internet (or, indeed, in any written form): If there are brown M&Ms in the text (i.e. sentences and proper nouns aren't started with capital letters, punctuation marks are placed seemingly at random and apostrophes are growing with wild abandon out of the most unusual of places), then it raises a suspicion in me that maybe the meaning and content of the text itself might not be all that worth reading. Put a slightly different way, if the basics (such as looking up the correct spelling of a word if you're not sure, or working out whether a colon or a full-stop would be best) haven't been covered, then how on Earth can I be sure that you haven't skimped on the decidedly more difficult task of making sure that what you're writing is considered and reasonable?

The answer is that I can't.

Of course, a piece of writing that has perfect grammar, imaginative syntax and spelling straight out of whichever academic tome is the authority on such things*** is not necessarily factually correct and imbued with sense and reason, but it does give the impression that a little thought has gone into it at the very least.

So take note, please, those of you out there in cyberspace who do things like post links to pro-creationist and pro-geocentrism websites on the contact form of a [not as] popular [as I'd like it to be] astronomy questions blog, that typing in ALL-CAPS followed by strings of exclamation marks is the online equivalent of barely coherent ranting, and every misplaced apostrophe is the uncontrollably ejaculated spittle that hits my face as a result, and it won't be given the time of day.



If you've got this far and know that you, yourself suffer from some grammatical blips from time to time, you could do worse than have a flick through some of the posts I've written with the hope of providing some help for those who never really 'got' the rules. They're under the SPAG tag for this blog. Maybe you're as fed up with people getting it wrong as I am, in which case you might think it useful to find the specific misdemeanour under the SPAG tag, and quietly point the offender in its direction.







* This is not, apparently, urban rock-legend, but true, if Snopes.com is any kind of authority.
** Who, totally irrelevantly, shares my birthday.
*** It occured to me after writing that sentence that the reference book I'm alluding to may well be a dictionary.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kids, caving and coal: The Robert Jeffery Centre, Govilon

It's not often I post about specific school stuff, but I've spent the last week away on a school trip and felt the need to write about it.

I took my year 7 form to the village of Govilon, near Abergavenny, at the South-Eastern end of the Welsh Brecon Beacons National Park. We stayed at the Robert Jeffery Centre, which was set up in 1971 (originally called Govilon Field Centre) by the Kettering Old Grammar School Foundation as a base for staff and students from Kettering schools while they took part in various courses.

Now, the centre employs specialists to run a wide range of courses. From Monday to Friday of last week myself, two other members of staff from my school and twenty-seven students took part in hill walking, night walking, caving, climbing, abseiling, orienteering and river-walking activities, and looking at the website I see that these are only a small selection of the wider courses available.

I don't want to talk about those, though: you can take part in such activities in a multitude of places throughout the British Isles, so I'd rather waffle about the aspects which may be specific to this particular centre.

First of all,

The Accommodation...
The lads stayed in one dormitory, the girls were split between two smaller rooms, and we three members of staff each stayed in our own room. This meant that every sleeping room was in use by us throughout our stay - there are beds for 36 people in total - so it felt like it was our own home from home for the week. There were plenty of showers and toilets for both staff and students and, despite visiting Wales in December, we were never cold (whilst inside the building...)


The Food ...
... was included in the price that the students paid, and it was better than the food you'd pay more for in a hotel: I had a cooked breakfast and cereal every morning, a packed lunch (sandwiches, crisps, chocolate and a piece of fruit) every day, and a three-course meal every evening. Hot chocolate and biscuits were provided as a supper time treat each night, and a couple of flasks of hot chocolate were brought along to warm up the kids after the colder, wetter activity days.

The food was prepared by a small team of ladies who also took care of other behind-the-scenes things at the centre including cleaning. They were all lovely in every way, friendly and approachable, very flexible and were even kind enough to put one of my boys' sleeping bags in the wash after an unfortunate nocturnal puking incident.


The Instructors ...
... were not only skilled and experienced in their fields, but also with regards to working with children. They built up a working relationship within minutes of meeting them, managed their behaviour perfectly and were patient to almost saintly levels. My kids all adored each one of them, and I can't fault the way they worked with my form, keeping their interest whilst keeping their behaviour in check!


The Kit ...
... for each activity was supplied or sourced by the centre, so the students didn't need to buy any of their own before coming. This included wellies and waterproof tops and trousers, so all we needed to bring was a decent supply of T-shirts and sweaters, alongside hats and gloves.

All in all my form and I had a fantastic week, for which we can't thank the staff and instructors at the Robert Jeffery Centre enough. If you're looking for somewhere to take your class for a week of fun, team building and outdoor activities*, then I can fully recommend the RJC in Govilon (yes, I did say it was for Kettering schools, and this is indeed who they mainly cater for, but I understand that they do let schools in other areas in on the action too). Here's that website again:


Oh yeah: I mentioned coal in the title, didn't I? One of the activities I didn't mention above was a trip to Big Pit. I'll give that it's own post.





* And also an opportunity for them to develop such skills as packing a bag with required equipment, thinking for themselves, and not forgetting to wear socks when spending a day on a mountain in Wales in December**.
** Yes, this actually happened. Twice.